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AMBS PhD researcher wins University Making a Difference Award

Congratulations go to Alysha Shivji, AMBS PhD researcher, who has won the 2021 University of Manchester’s Making a Difference award for Outstanding Benefit to Society Through Research.

The Making a Difference Awards recognise the extensive range of social responsibility initiatives our staff, students, alumni and external partners are involved in, and covered categories such as benefit to research; widening participation; environmental sustainability and equality, diversity and inclusion. The 2021 Awards ceremony was broadcast live online on 12 May from Manchester Museum, hosted by Lemn Sissay, the University’s Chancellor and included amongst the winners and nominees, an audience of staff, students and alumni from around the world.

In 2019, we first learned more about Alysha’s inspiring story in the AMBS Magazine, where she shared how a traumatic road accident in 2013 (at the time she was studying for her Sociology masters at Stanford University in California) changed her life. Since then, she has strengthened her existing commitment to making a difference to the lives of others. After working for UNICEF in New York in the end trafficking department, she was soon inspired her to start her PhD studies in 2018 at Alliance MBS, with a focus on modern slavery and supply chains. Her journey has seen her follow her lifelong passion working to eradicate human trafficking/forced labour, promoting her belief “that states, corporations and civil society all have to work together, they all need to take shared responsibility for victims, they all need to collaborate.” She argues we all have a role and responsibility, from businesses to governments to protect and improve human rights.

We recently caught up with Alysha to find out how her PhD is progressing since we last spoke, and why the recent recognition of her research at the Making a Difference Awards was so important to her.

Can you tell us all about your winning innovative research project?

“I have been working with The Fair Food Program; a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for farmworkers. I was really lucky to work on this project because it not only informed my PhD research but also supported the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Accountability and Remedy Project. Carrying out research on behalf of the OHCHR increased the impact of my research because the findings from the study helped to inform a report that was published by them last year investigating the issue of non-remedy for business-related human rights abuses. I was really pleased that findings from The Fair Food Program were considered when drafting the report.”

What does it mean to you to have won the Making a Difference Award for Outstanding Benefit to Society Through Research?

“I feel very honoured to have won the Making a Difference Award. Conducting research that really matters contributes to making the world a better place for all is something I really strive towards. I think it’s fantastic that the University has this award to recognise students’ work. I think making a difference is a metric to be celebrated, and attending the virtual ceremony was a great opportunity to hear about all the amazing research going on at the university.”

How do you hope your win will benefit your project?

“My hope is that it raises awareness and introduces more people to The Fair Food Program and Worker-driven Social Responsibility model. We all eat food, but it’s often easy to forget the people who pick our food. I hope my achievement encourages people to consider the farmworkers who pick our food and how we can ensure their rights are protected.”

How has studying your PhD at AMBS enabled you to explore the social responsibility issues you care about?

“Studying at AMBS has opened so many doors for me. My supervisors encouraged me to attend the UN Forum for Business and Human Rights starting in my very first year. They introduced me to the world of Business and Human Rights that I had previously only read about. Now when I go to conferences or present my work, I am able to engage with leading scholars that I admire on the SR issues that I am most passionate about.”

How has interdisciplinary working with the School of Social Sciences enriched your project?

“My PhD is interdisciplinary: I am working with supervisors from AMBS, one from the School of Social Sciences (in Law) and my own academic background is in Sociology. I find the interdisciplinarity of my research incredibly rewarding and challenging. I strongly believe issues of Business and Human Rights do not belong in a single field so conducting research that engages with different fields and different audiences enriches the research and helps to develop a better understanding of the issues being investigated.”

Why is cleaning up global supply chains and protecting vulnerable workers becoming increasingly important for corporations?

“This has always been important, but now it is more important for corporations because people in wider society are learning about these issues. I hope my research will be relevant for corporations, but I really hope that it will be interesting and informative for everyone. It shows that there is a model that has actually worked at addressing forced labour in an environment that was once referred to as ‘ground-zero for modern-day slavery’; at nearly eliminating sexual assault in the fields in a sector notoriously rife with sexual assault; and empowering and protecting workers to monitor and enforce their own human rights.”

How have you made sure your research has an impact?

“I have engaged with the Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Accountability and Remedy Project Team at the UN in Geneva using Zoom during lockdown. I have also presented at conferences, workshops and guest-lectured to both undergraduate and graduate business school classes to present my case and discuss my findings.”

What are your future plans after completing your PhD?

“I want to keep doing research that makes a difference! I hope to continue conducting research into global supply chains and worker-driven approaches to labour governance.”